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Prevent Snow Shoveling Injuries: Techniques + Tips

by Jason Ulisse January 29, 2013

Isn’t it great we are finally getting some snow here in Rhode Island? While my own tolerance for winter has slowly been declining since my days at the University of Vermont in the early 90’s, it was a welcome site in my house last weekend to see the fresh and pure white snow cover out my window last weekend. I especially enjoyed the happiness on my daughter’s faces for the last 3 days of school vacation as they were outside constantly playing in the snow. I think they truly missed the snow especially since it was so mild last winter.

However, the one thing I do not miss is shoveling out after the fresh blanket of snow is down. I am sure most of you noticed that it was a bit heavy and wet making it more strenuous and can lead to back pain and shoulder pain. With that in mind I think it is a good time to remind all of you how to best prevent injuries out on the driveway/walkway while you are shoveling snow.

First I think it is important to understand that shoveling snow is strenuous physical activity, much like playing basketball or hockey. When you play hockey or basketball, I am sure most of you don’t just walk on the ice/court and start playing full tilt. Typically you warm up by doing jumping jacks, jogging or skating lightly, leg swings, – a dynamic warm-up is necessary for preventing injuries. Going out to shovel snow should be no different. I would recommend doing some leg swings, jumping jacks, arm circles, body weight squats, trunk rotations, and lunges to get all the muscles that you will use for shoveling snow warmed up properly. This will reduce the likely hood of injuring your back and shoulders while shoveling snow.

Another simple tip is try not to “bite off more than you can chew”. In this case, if the snow is heavy, take smaller shoveling scoops. This will lighten the load on your body and make it easier for you to maintain proper body mechanics when shoveling. This leads me into BODY MECHANICS. Make sure when you scoop the snow from the ground that you do not bend from your back with your legs straight! Instead you need to suck your belly button towards your spine (but DO NOT HOLD YOUR BREATH, KEEP BREATHING), sink your hips back, and bend at the knees, while keeping your chest up. This allows you to use your powerful hips and thighs to do the bulk of the lifting and keep the pressure off your back.

Lastly, when you have the loaded shovel of snow, try to avoid having to throw it long distances. Try to walk it over to where you want to unload the snow. If you do have to throw it a little bit, try to use your hips as you rotate and again suck the belly button towards your spine (DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH!) to help brace your spine.

In the event that you are sore after shoveling, I recommend putting some ice on the sore area for 15 minutes. Hopefully these tips help to prevent injuries for you. Please remember that these tips will GREATLY REDUCE your chances of getting injured. In the event that an unfortunate injury occurs, contact one of our great physical therapists immediately so that we can help you get back out there for the next snowstorm!

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